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Dublin High School Chemistry Teacher Brad Vereen on the Importance of Science Education

September 24, 2017

vereenDUBLIN, CA–2017 is Mr. Brad Vereen’s sixth year of teaching AP Chemistry at Dublin High School, and his fifteenth year overall. A California native, Mr. Vereen has lived in Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and Thousand Oaks, and attended high school in Newbury Park in Ventura County. He received his associate’s degree from Moorpark College, later transferring to UC Berkeley, majoring in cell biology.

After obtaining his MBA, Mr. Vereen began teaching at the College of Business and Economics at California State University East Bay in Hayward, while simultaneously working in Silicon Valley. Finding that he enjoyed teaching his college class more than his job in the private sector, he decided to transition to a teaching career in 2003.

“The first time I was ever in front of a class was at Wells Middle School,” he recalls. “I was a student teacher there for a few months. I then came to Dublin High to complete my student teaching under Mrs. Levak-Cohen, and was very fortunate to have been hired the following year to teach physical science.” Mr. Vereen has taught chemistry, earth science, and biological science over the last fifteen years, and has also served as Energy Manager for the entire district. He is also the co-lead teacher of the DHS Science Department.

I was honored to be given the opportunity to interview this lively and enthusiastic teacher, who imparts his remarkable passion for chemistry to all his students.

Neha Harpanhalli: You majored in Biological Sciences at UC Berkeley. What sparked your interest in chemistry?

Brad Vereen: “I think a lot of people going to college find that their interests evolve through the process of earning a degree and finding out who they are. I majored in cell biology at UC Berkeley— essentially the chemistry of very large molecules. I discovered in time that I was more drawn to chemistry and biochemistry than I was to biology—not to say that I don’t love both. I’ve taught both biology and chemistry over the years. We all sort of fall into the things we have passion for, and I have a passion for chemistry and it seems to be my calling.”

Harpanhalli: Who or what influenced your decision to pursue a teaching career?

Vereen: “I had so many good teachers in middle school and high school, many of whom I’m friends with to this day. They were such good people whose motivations were centered around helping others, being problem solvers, and working with students. I’m still in contact with my seventh-grade chorus and PE teacher, my freshman english teacher, and some of my language teachers… just looking at the lives they’ve led, helping others, working and serving a community for many years… I found that I enjoyed that lifestyle too. And that’s why I do what I do!”

Harpanhalli: What do you think is the biggest misconception students have about chemistry?

Vereen: “There’s a lot of anxiety around chemistry. I think it’s because chemistry involves a lot of logic and critical thinking—working with symbols and abstract concepts. Students can get a little intimidated by it. I think these misconceptions have come from some adults and older students who relate their experiences with chemistry. Your experience may be different from your brother’s or sister’s experience. You’ve got to give it a chance.

“I think chemistry education itself has changed significantly: it’s no longer just brute-force memorization, but more problem-solving and real-world applications. It can be positioned so that the students can see where it’s useful and how it can applied to other fields. It also helps to have an instructor who clearly has a passion for the subject and is able to pass it on to the students.”

Harpanhalli: Why is it important for students interested in engineering or any other STEM field to take chemistry in high school?

Vereen: “Chemistry has applications in medicine, materials science, electrical engineering… it touches so many different fields in science and technology. Very few of my students actually become pure chemists: I have a large number of students in my classes interested in engineering or the health sciences, particularly in nursing (which makes me extremely happy).

“A strong foundation from general or honors chemistry is important. Though I enjoy teaching AP Chemistry, I also want to give a shout-out to my general chemistry students: this typically is their first experience in a chemistry class, and a lot of them have the same anxiety I spoke of earlier. In time, they realize that there’s a logic to chemistry, a beauty to it; it tends to follow rules, and there are patterns. There are just so many applications in everyday life and professional life, and to get them to see the connections is truly something that gives me pleasure.”

Harpanhalli: What should students keep in mind before signing up for AP Chemistry?

Vereen: “Keep in mind what you can handle in terms of workload; this is true for any honors or AP level class. I notice overloading on the part of the students all the time. Sleep is important, which is something some of my students are not getting enough of. I am all for students taking on a course that they know is going to challenge them, but you have to be able to follow through with it.

“If you’re in AP Chem strictly because you want a certain grade or boost your GPA, I don’t think it’s going to be fun for you. You’d be leaving a lot on the table in terms of what AP Chem has to offer. If you’re interested in science, technology, engineering, or math, it’s a really good place to be. If you are interested in challenging yourself, it’s a really good place to be. And even if you think you’re more interested in the humanities, I think the opportunity to sit for the AP exam and earn college credit is going to save some time and money once you actually attend university. So there’s a lot of good reasons to take it. That’s just my view, other people may feel differently.”

Harpanhalli: In your classes, you always stress the importance of getting help as soon as students find it difficult to grasp a particular concept. How can students go about accomplishing this?

Vereen: “I really like what Dublin High has done during the past couple of years, it’s really changed the tenor and the demeanor of the class. Having a place to meet with study groups is important—I have students come in during lunch and during my prep period. I was not able to offer this time before the 7 period day was implemented.

“I know there was some resistance to lengthening the school day, but it seems like it has been benefitting a lot of students. Who wouldn’t want to get their Chemistry homework done in the Hub-—when you’re fresh, you’re in the right mindset, you have easy access to tutors and teachers—rather than doing it at home in the evening when you’re more prone to distractions? I think the support structures we have in place really help, and students should take advantage of them. That’s my opinion, anyway.”

Harpanhalli: Currently, you are Dublin High’s only AP Chemistry teacher for 100+ students that have enrolled in this course. What are the day-to-day challenges you face while preparing for the class, especially given the intense lab work—a crucial component of the class?

Vereen: “I don’t really see it as being a challenge, to be honest. It’s something that I work hard to prepare for… it’s a fun challenge. I am pleased to support a community that is growing, that demands high-quality, rigorous science education. I am pleased to be in a wonderful department that is continuously expanding its honors and AP offerings——we just brought AP Environmental Science back [taught by Mrs. Jeanne Morgan]. The thing I’m a little wistful about is, I know that there is a section of the community that wants to take two science classes, and with luck, if the community moves forward with the Science and Engineering Building, I think that will be possible again.’

Harpanhalli: Given the fast-paced nature of the course and little room for individualized student instruction, how do you evaluate the success of your students at the end of a lesson or an exam?

Vereen: “I use multiple measures. I certainly talk to my students to gauge their understanding of the lesson or their feelings after an exam. At the end of the year, I give my students a survey, to provide some feedback on how successful they felt throughout the year. I know they do feel successful because they frequently choose to share their successes with me, and the AP exam scores have been phenomenal the last couple of years.”

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Harpanhalli: Last spring, Dublin High School sophomores took the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) pilot test. These new standards cover multiple scientific disciplines, encompassing physical, life, earth and space sciences. As the state of California shifts to these revised standards, what are your thoughts? How do you think these new standards will impact the way high school chemistry is taught?

Vereen: “I wouldn’t go back to the old way of teaching chemistry, which is just straight memorization and calculations. In the new standards, there are various topics with more emphasis on problem-solving, applications in engineering, and noticing patterns. [NGSS is] more integrated with the other disciplines. We currently have offerings at DHS in earth science, physics, and biology, which have a lot of common threads with chemistry. Being able to recognize a connection in chemistry with another course that you took previously is definitely going to happen readily with these standards.”

Harpanhalli: Your passion for chemistry is evident even beyond the classroom. (Your profile picture is a benzene molecule!) What are some of your other interests?

Vereen: “Well, I enjoy spending time with my family: my wife and my two sons. Both of my sons are avid Boy Scouts; I love to help out with that. I also enjoy gardening, reading, and exercising.

“Although I do not live in Dublin (I live in a neighboring community), working to support my local community is one of my personal values and I’m glad to have the opportunity to do it.”


Mr. Vereen would like to thank the Dublin community for their generous donations to the DHS Science Department, which are helping make rigorous, lab-intensive science courses possible.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 24, 2017 11:01 am

    Really enjoyed reading this! Pharmacy student here and I can vouch for the fact that having a good chemistry teacher at school level is so important for building those foundations. Great stuff!
    http://thenellybean.com

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